A recent Facebook post on the Tarot History page by tarot author and deck creator Robert Place about the earliest known forms of divination got me thinking about the nature of intuition (specifically as championed by those cartomancers who only use free-association from the card images, downplaying or dismissing the value of knowledge-based analysis). In it, Place made three assertions: the oldest recorded form of divination was intuitive, and its chief example was shamanistic dream interpretation followed by skrying, or gazing into a bowl of water or crystal ball for signs of hidden meaning; the next-oldest mode of divination was inductive, which involved looking for external omens in the waking world, and its principal form was astrology, which in its earliest incarnation was evidently focused on the monitoring of lunar cycles; the most-recent divinatory practices were interpretive and used various “aids” in their predictive methods: coins or yarrow stalks (I Ching), dice (astragalomancy), stones (lithomancy), soil (geomancy), common objects known as “lots” or “sorts” (sortilege), lines on the palm (chiromancy) and cards (cartomancy), among many others.
Place’s observations seem to support my long-held opinion that the superiority of intuition as claimed by book-shunning tarot readers isn’t really based on the “genuine article” (which seems to have been more subjective self-reflection than a true gauge of external phenomena). I see its modern counterpart as a type of “guided suggestion,” since it uses the images on the cards as a springboard to stimulate visionary assumptions about their significance in objective reality. I’ve shied away from furtherance of the word because it smacks too much of free-floating guesswork when in fact its use is unavoidably tethered to the interpretive model encoded in the pictures (it’s just “the nature of the beast”). I would submit that what is really being relied on in coming up with intuitive impressions are inspiration, imagination and ingenuity triggered by mental-emotional engagement with the artists’ symbolic renderings.
It’s not so much “reading the cards” as it is evoking certain “feelings” about the import of the narrative scenes within the context of the querent’s circumstances (something that doesn’t work very well with non-scenic “pip” cards). The mantra seems to be “If it feels right, it must be correct.” Unfortunately, there is a contingent of tarot writers, teachers and mentors who push this approach to the exclusion of trying to master the core knowledge embedded in the divinatory tradition. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that so much reading is currently being done via electronic media, which discourages immediate feedback about one’s oracular prowess. Having a “live” sitter at the table can quickly reel in any intuitive flights of fancy and keep a reading on-track. What I seem to be seeing is a populist groundswell of sentimental opinion that doesn’t bode well for what I’ve always taken to be a serious (even dignified) pursuit. Perhaps these developments are best summarized by a satirical spin on the old Leslie Gore song lyrics: “It’s my party and I’ll scry if I want to.”